Google’s leadership moonshot

Monday’s Google news highlighted an extremely rare breed of leader: Hyper-successful entrepreneurs who continue to manage their companies as massive global institutions. Only a tiny fraction of entrepreneurs achieve great success, and only a tiny fraction of those make the leap from visionary founder to corporate CEO. This morning we see why.

Google (GOOG) CEO and co-founder Larry Page announced on Monday the creation of Alphabet, a holding company analogous to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, that will own Google and its many non-search-based businesses—autonomous cars, life extension, maps, Glass—separated into at least two distinct segments, Google and everything else. It’s a smart, investor-friendly move that will help Google—er, Alphabet—grow even bigger.

Alibaba Group (BABA) founder and chief Jack Ma is making his biggest buy ever, paying $4.6 billion for a 20% stake in a Chinese electronics retailer called Suning Commerce Group. Ma realizes that Alibaba, which is already bigger than Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) combined, needs physical infrastructure if it’s going to dominate retailing in China. Like Page, he’s managing a mammoth company to become even bigger.

It’s a different story at Chobani, where rumors were rife last spring that founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya was on his way out. The company insisted it wasn’t true, and Ulukaya is still chief. But his heart seems to be in launching, not managing. He once told an interviewer, “All that marketing, supply chain, logistics stuff—most of it is BS.” Over the past few days, we’ve learned of his investment and enthusiastic involvement in a startup coffee business.

And then there’s Twitter (TWTR), which moved on from founder management in 2010 when it hired Dick Costolo as CEO. But he got fired last month, and the board has brought back co-founder Jack Dorsey as “interim CEO.” On Monday, he bought $875,000 of Twitter stock, showing his confidence in the company. But whether he becomes the permanent CEO depends on his plans at another company he co-founded, Square, where he’s also CEO. The Twitter board reportedly wants, reasonably, a full-time boss.

The ever-wise Peter Drucker used to ask entrepreneurs whether they wanted to create an institution that would outlive them and, if so, whether they really wanted to run that institution after it was established and successful. It’s a reminder for all leaders to ask themselves what they really want—because if they’re not doing it, they’re unlikely to succeed.

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